Saturday, May 31, 2008

Saturday Market-ing

The Forest Hill Market keeps growing. Each week new craft and food vendors are popping up. There's even a woman who clips dogs' nails. The farm produce has also continued to expand as more vegetables come into season. We're starting to see squash and cucumbers. Carrots are available, but sparse. Asparagus, broccoli and strawberries are still showing up. The greens continue to be phenomenal, with wide varieties of lettuce, chards, kales, and various spicy greens. We were down one meat vendor this week, but they aren't the one I usually buy from.

That said, this week's haul:
  • broccoli
  • strawberries
  • asparagus
  • two kinds of lettuce
  • Tuscan kale
  • English peas
  • pork chops
  • chorizo
  • ribs
  • strawberry jam (on a taste, possibly the best I've ever had, and well worth the $6.50 for a large jar)

Dinner tonight is probably at a restaurant because of the ballet performance, but tomorrow, we will be slow-cooking the ribs on the grill. They should perfectly accompany one of the Villa Appalachia wines I have. There also promises to be grilled zucchini and something made with an awesome green garlic head. I plan to pore over Alice Waters The Art of Simple Food for more ideas.

But back to the market for a moment. What also continues to impress me are the numbers of people flocking to the market. They grow and get a little more diverse each week. Clearly, Richmond needed (and continues to need) this kind of organic (not necessarily referring to food) sense of community.

future eye

I finally managed a couple of decent posts tonight. (Please be sure to scroll down for them.) I've been thinking a lot about the future of this blog, my writing, my various interests, and my professional life. That said, I want to continue to focus this blog on advertising, politics, parenting, food, music, and whatever else piques my interest, but I also have the urge to get back to my work on Coney Island.

To that end, I've begun to think through a second blog built around my research and writing on Brooklyn and Coney Island. Ultimately, I'd like to make this a project that evolves beyond a blog into its own site. I see it as one way to bring together my work as a designer and my yen for writing. Beyond that, the more I've thought about Coney (and New York as a whole) at the turn of the century, the more I've become convinced that words alone cannot encompass the whole story.

Any thoughts and reactions are welcome.

Friday, May 30, 2008

life as a ballet dad

Banana's ballet recital is tomorrow. She is so excited for it that she was still still practicing bits of her routine as we finally arrived at home after the dress rehearsal. I should note that our return home was delayed by close to an hour because she wanted to see piece after piece of the rehearsal. It was, after all, the first chance to see all of the classes pieces put together as part of the whole production. Frankly, I would have let her stay through the whole thing had it not been 7:30 and past dinner time.

In any case... The performance, or rather the rehearsal, is worth noting. Rather than do a simple little recital where each class performs its rehearsed piece(s), Banana's school puts on a full production. The husband and wife who own the school write a story, rent costumes, and perform as part of the whole pageant. It's all a bit cheesy, and jogs my own memories of doing (a lot) of theater. Regardless, there is something truly fun about these kids from 4 to 14 genuinely enjoying themselves while also becoming serious about what they're doing.

This is a feeling I got from theater which I did for a few years in high school and college, but I never got the same feeling from music. No. For the years that I studied music from 7 to 17, I practiced as needed and I learned my "stuff." The reality, however, is that I never came home desperate to play. Practicing never appealed to me. I did it because it was part of what was expected and fostered.

This evening, I watched the kids and thought about these memories. Two daughters of the husband and wife (both former professional dancers) were integral parts of the show. At first, I wondered if they were doing it because they wanted to or because it was expected of them. After a while, though, I stopped wondering. They were both clearly talented. The older one seemed to crave the stage, and she kept practicing her moves. The younger one called out corrections to her mother's choreography. They clearly enjoyed what they were doing, just as Banana clearly enjoyed watching all of the other performances and practices. Just as she asked whether she would be doing these dances in a year or five.

From the get-go, I have resolved that I will not push Banana to do anything she does not want to do, and I will support her in anything she wants to do. Tonight brought home that resolve even more.


Sidenote: It is strange to be one of the few dads (and the only single dad) in a roomful of wealthy stay-at-hom moms. More on that later.

taking the brain down a notch

I just turned off Countdown with Keith Olberman and flipped to a DVR recording of Patty Griffin from Artists Den. The four-day week seems long and taxing, and frankly I'm sick of the chatter about Obama vs. Clinton and McLellan's take-down of the administration. After all, I don't think even hardcore Clinton supporters will be surprised at this point to see Obama win—rather than be handed—the nomination.

As for the former press secretary, well, that's a fresher, more interesting topic at the moment. I'm inclined to think that the administration misunderestimated Mr. McLellan as much as the rest of us did. His answers were so often ham-handed obfuscations or obvious smokescreens that it became easy to think he was just hung out as the fall guy. The doughy, mild fall guy. Worse for the administration, however, is the fact that they must have thought that his Texas-rooted loyalty would hold with him even after he'd been thrown under the bus.

Of course he hadn't developed any opinions in all of those meetings. Of course his all-access pass (rooted in his Texas history) hadn't afforded him the chance to speak the truth to power. Of course their very own press-bury dough boy would never turn on them and pull back the curtains the way others had. And if he did, no one would listen to him, right? Hell, even publishers didn't believe he would deliver any real dirt.

And, my oh my, they were all wrong. Instead, what we get is the boy pointing at the emperor with no clothes, Toto pulling down the curtain. We get an honest-to-god take down of the administration. It's not the first (nor is it likely to be the last) take down of this crew, but somehow this one stings more. They can't say—as they did with Clarke and others—that he wasn't privy to everything. They can't say that he was just an outsider—this man took it on the chin every day for his old friends. All they're left with are ad hominem attacks (also, not a first) on him as a disgruntled former employee.

As nice as it is to see the curtain pulled back, however, this book is just one in a series, a series that isn't likely to end any time soon. We've heard all of it before in different ways, from different perspectives. We will hear it again, the tale of the distastrous Bush years. Sadly, none of it will change the past eight years.

When I was in Ireland, Paris and elsewhere in 2001, people repeatedly asked me why we elected Bush. I said I'd voted for Gore, and that a majority had, in fact, voted for Gore. (How that translated to Bush becoming president was a more difficult explanation.) The Europeans saw then what 49% of Americans didn't see—that Bush was an ignorant play-cowboy. They saw what friends (including Brian and Amy over at Incertus) and I saw as we watched the tide turn in late 2000. We hoped that it wouldn't be as bad as we feared. And now, in the echo of Mclellan's voice and many other voices, it is clear that every fear we had has come true in spades.


On a side note, I have a marketing suggestion for John McCain as he runs for Bush's third term. He should ask—over and over—whether we are better now than we were eight years ago. Building a platform on this should guarantee him the votes of the 27% who still support Bush.

Friday Fun - classic edition

Scatman Crothers... oh yeaaahhhh.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

more food absurdity

I picked this up off Consumerist today. Apparently, big meat producers are fighting efforts by Creekstone Farms in Kansas to test all of its beef for mad cow disease. Or rather, the Bush administration has asked a Federal appeals court to prohibit Creekstone from testing its cows. The logic behind this is the same logic used in Monsanto's lawsuits against dairies in Maine, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. The argument is rooted in the idea that saying their cows are free of mad cow (or that a farmer's milk is free of RBST or RGBH) implies that their "product" may not be as safe.

This kind of behavior is not without precedent in U.S. agribusiness. For instance, in the late 1890s and early 1900s, the USDA waged a trade war with several European countries over agricultural imports and exports. In one case, the U.S. trade representative went so far as to argue that our beef preserved with boric acid was healthier than German beef cured with salt. His logic? That every expert knew that the effects of salt were more dangerous.

In any case, at what point do we as a society—a political and commercial system—do we stop mortgaging our individual and societal good in favor of profit? At what point, do mass-producing corporations stop trying to shut down local producers and start trying to live up to their standards? Is it feasible to envision an agricultural system where the government protects the citizens rather than the corporations?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

irony, or something

Yesterday afternoon, my neighbor Jack and I spent a couple hours enjoying the sun and drinking beer on the deck at a local brewpub. In the course of our conversation, we got into the question of the sorts of values parents teach their children. More specifically, I explained that I was trying to teach Banana the value of taking care of things—clothes and other possessions. Knowing when to put a smock on over a nice dress or use grubby clothes. Knowing when to put a bicycle away so it doesn't get rained upon. Caring for our house and the things in it. It is a habit I have worked to be better at in my thirties than I was in my twenties.

But then this happens: I left my pool cue at the bar where I played pool last evening. Completely forgot the case was on the back of my chair. When I got home and realized what had happened, I decided get the number and call the bar to have a friend put it in the office. Then I got distracted and forgot to call. I remembered again this morning and called. As you might expect, the guy who was opening couldn't find the case. The best I can hope at this point is that one of my friends saw it and put it in a safe place.

The cue? It's a custom-made cue that I bought the year before Banana was born. There isn't another like it in the world. And I left it without thinking.

I am an idiot.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Fun

Bowie and the Conchords. Classics.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

muppet revelations!

I've posted what I remember as the original Mahna Mahna before, but I was wrong. There was an earlier version in 1969. It doesn't have Kermit or the psychedelic pink creatures and the Mahna Mahna dude looks more beat than hippie. Still, there is no better way to start a day...

Thanks to DaddyTypes for pointing me to it.

jumping on the viral train

This little video love letter to the Mac is spreading all over the interwebs. Just thought I'd add to the delicious contagion. Enjoy.


This weekend, Banana and I engaged in a bit of extreme consumerism. We each picked up a few new outfits and new shoes. Call it yet another foray into wearing both parenting hats. Anyway, she has been excitedly putting on new clothes each of the past few days — and lightly bemoaning her school's ban on sleeveless shirts. The most exciting part of the day was not, however, the shopping.

As the afternoon was wearing on and we had returned from the mall to take care of a few small fun things in Carytown — she got to buy a new doll outfit with the change we had saved — we stopped at Can Can for a snack. I eschewed Can Can when it first opened in 2005 because it seemed to be trying too hard to be a bit of Paris stuck in the middle of Richmond. Over the past few years, however, the place has grown on me. Their food and service are consistently excellent, and it is one of the few places I can sit at the bar with Banana. The bartenders are friendly and attentive, and there are rarely smokers in the times we might linger for a snack and a loaf of bread.

So that afternoon, we stopped to cool our heels for a bit. Banana got soda water and a bread basket, and I ordered an Oberon. We chatted happily with the bartender for a few minutes, then Banana said, "Daddy, my teeth hurt." "Which ones?" I asked. She pointed at the bottom front teeth. I reached down and wiggled one of the teeth, and my little girl's eyes got as wide and bright as the summer sun. She started giggling, then wiggled the tooth herself, then giggled some more. By the time we left, the bartenders and women sitting next to us had all heard about her loose tooth. I'm not sure I've ever seen her so genuinely excited about anything.

Friends have asked what the going rate for the tooth fairy is. It was a quarter when I was a kid, so I'm guessing a dollar is about right now. Inflation, y'know...

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Sunday Evening while-I'm-doing-laundry-and-watching-the-baseball-game-edition

There are some full posts I've wanted to do, but the weekend has sort of melted away in a flurry of consumer stupidity. That said, here's the abbreviated version...
  • My last post on the new growers market in Forest Hill Park has been a fairly popular hit on the blog. It's not surprising if you are in Richmond and take the time to visit the market on Saturday morning—the crowds are impressive. The result has been an increase in the number of vendors, and an increasing sense that Richmond is catching up with cities that have established green market traditions (like New York, ahem...).

  • Our market haul this week: 2 new varieties of lettuce, multi-colored swiss chard, pork chops (pastured), ground beef (pastured), snap peas, flowers, strawberries, pac choi, and asparagus. Cost (including snacks and coffee): $45. I've already fed Banana two amazing meals off this.

  • Joining a CSA would ensure that we are guaranteed a certain haul, and yet I haven't bothered to get on the list for any. Why am I such a slacker?

  • Broad Appetit—Richmond's new locavore festival in a city obsessed with festivals—came off today in spite of intermittent rain. There was a strong turnout and many restaurants began to run out of items within an hour. Sadly, I didn't get to enjoy it as much as I'd hoped... something about trying to do it with multiple almost-six year olds.

  • Changing gears... Clinton needs to drop out. She cannot possibly be so tone-deaf as to miss the momentum in Obama's favor or blame it entirely on the media. Ultimately, though, she should drop out because of comments like the remarks about white, working-class voters and because she has been shot in the foot too often by stupid moves made by her handlers.

Back to laundry duty.

Friday, May 16, 2008

richmond eats - 2M Mediterranean Market

The northside of Richmond has never been an area I knew particularly well, but since beginning the new gig, I've been investigating the eating options up here. Fortunately there are a few that step beyond the usual chain fare. One in particular that popped up on my radar is 2M Mediterranean Market & Deli. It's a dive-y little place in a dive-y little strip mall. Richmonders will know it as the one on Staples Mill with the old Ukrops—in this town, the local Ukrops grocery store chain offers constant landmarks.

All dive-y character aside, the food that the Bosnian owner turns out is excellent. The kefta and lamb shawarma are excellent, served on long flatbread with excellent tahini, pickles and the usual lettuce and tomato. His gyro is a little smaller, though still a good portion. So far, only the falafel has been less than exceptional. I'm a fan of freshly made and fried falafel, like the crispy nuggets I used to gorge on in New York. Anyway, his falafel are made in the morning and reheated as needed. As a result, they're dried out a bit and don't quite sparkle with garlic and parsley the way they should His hummus and tabouleh, however, are stellar. the taboulleh is full of fresh parsley and lemon, and the hummus was so good Banana scarfed it down when I brought some home. Good stuff.

On the wall above the register are the usual series of glowing local reviews. One of which mentioned that the owner was planning to open a "real" restaurant soon. I asked him about it, and his answer was "not so soon. Too expensive, you know." Indeed. Thankfully, his current business is still doing well, and considering the amount of food for the money, it's definitely not too expensive.

Friday Fun - the "really?" edition

Fraggle Rock is being brought back. Really?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

brand fascination

More times than I can count in my career in advertising and media I have been involved in conversations about branding and brands. As you might expect, the tenor of that conversation depends on the client-in-question. One common rule I think you can establish, though, is that most clients do not really understand the difference between brand and branding. The two are often confused for each other, and though they are part of the same overall picture, they are not the same thing.

Essentially, a brand is the identity you create. In visuals and copy, it is what becomes your identifying mark. Branding is different; it is the feeling evoked by your brand. And it is a great deal more complex.

You can always create a great, memorable visual identity. Think Target or L.L. Bean. The thing is a great visual identity doesn't create the brand identity. Or more to the point, the visual doesn't create people's feelings about the brand. The company, instead, needs to connect with people's experiences and emotions. For example, Target has done such a good job of building its branding that many people (including me) think of that big red bullseye whenever a question of essentials from socks to shampoo to toilet paper comes to mind, and the biggest consumerists may even make the leap from essentials to figuring out what else they need (or want) from the store.

While I've found this a difficult concept to communicate in the past, the WSJ pointed to a site today where you can see what people's perceptions of brands are. Considering the extent to which consumerism and branding shape our society, it's a pretty interesting little exercise.

teh stupids!

The tag on this post at Wonkette reads "Fiction Writing Rendered Useless." Yep. Pretty much. The callow stupidity of our president will never ever fail to boggle my mind.

Monday, May 12, 2008

monday fun

This morning, I was thinking about the Electric Company. And I was thinking about how I want to introduce Banana to the show. And then Gawker puts this up...

Must be something in the chill, damp air hugging the East coast.

more ad stupidity

Nobody ever said ads had to be true to their market, right? In fact, sometimes it's better if an ad creates an aspirational feeling rather than depicting reality, right? Right. As Exhibit A, I offer this page from this week's Target circular.

Beautiful girl? Check. Aspirational look on face encouraging shoppers to feel good about themselves? Check. Correlation between sale items and visuals? Um, not so much. Why? Take a look at the product just below the headline... the weight-loss product. Yeah, and the smoking cessation lozenges below it. Oh, and the prenatal vitamins at the top of that column. Yeah... the real target here doesn't look much like the model.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

selling god

My buddy Jack and I hiked out to Short Pump Town Center this afternoon for a bit of retail roaming. Short Pump TC is one of the local examples of the reinvention of malls as "lifestyle centers" — an evolution that can inspire more than a few diatribes itself. Short Pump TC is also home to our local Apple store, and I'm in the market for a new MacBook Pro. (The Air calls, but I will not answer that call yet.)

Anyway, as we're roaming around and on our way to having a beer at one of the mall restaurants, or "concepts" in the lingo of mid- to high-end corporate chain restaurants, we stuble across a store that is having its grand opening. It takes nothing more than the words "Christian Fashion" to stop me.

The store is named Not Of This World—"NOTW" in rakish and grunge-cool typography. Very hip of them. The clothes from what I could see all followed the example of the mannequins in the window. The styles and look of the store fall somewhere between Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters. This is a long way from Thomas Kinkade and Zondervan Bookstores. This is hip, downtown cool like the church near my house which bills itself more as a worship lifestyle center than as a "traditional" church.

Leaving alone my belief that spirituality is should be quietly revered rather than crassly commercialized, this strikes me as one more effort to foist a brand—and it really is a brand in this case—of Christianity on society. The religion (specifically Christian) section at Barnes & Noble continues to expand while a whole subculture of films and music continues to build and creep in around the edges of popular culture. Our political discourse, international relations and military actions begin to take on the rhetoric of faith (again, a very specific faith). What I want to know is this: at what point do secularism and plurality begin to push back?

Saturday, May 10, 2008

always look on the bright side

Heard this morning on NPR: "They were practically begging us to report on the positive aspects of polygamy."

It's half comic, half sad to watch as polygamists scramble to normalize their public image in the wake of the raid of the FLDS compound in Texas. Somehow, though, I don't think their efforts will do much to reshape public opinion--or more likely the media memes.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Fun - old photo edition

Seriously, if you're as much of an old photo geek as I am, go check out the Library of Congress gallery. Seriously.

And foodies should go here.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Whitesnake on NPR

"Here I go Again" as interlude music on Morning Edition? Really? Really. Isn't that another sign of the apocalypse.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Forest Hill Farmers Market

Two new growers markets opened in Richmond this weekend: The Lakeside Market (which I will investigate on Wednesday, its other day) and the Forest Hill Farmers Market. The latter is being run by the same folks who launched the Byrd House Market in Oregon Hill last year. They are pulling in some excellent growers—Victory and Amy's Farms, among others—and excellent meat producers.

Perhaps the most notable aspect thing I was was the community involvement. This was the first day of a market that had received some publicity, but had hardly been plastered everywhere. Still, the place was packed before nine-thirty, and some of the vendors had begun to run out of the stocks they'd brought. As the guy at Amy's told me, "Who knew it'd be this big? I guess we'll have to bring more next time. Selling out by nine-thirty is just crazy." Crazy indeed, until you factor in how desperate many people in Richmond have been for the opening of an honest-to-god Saturday morning farmers market.

Frankly, there's no substitute for the sense of community you feel at such markets. Whether you're in Leyden or Fayetteville or New York or—now—Richmond, the connection to community and food source is irreplaceable. You run into neighbors and co-workers; you develop relationships with the people who produce your food; you make a moral decision that connects you directly to the soil and air within your region. After all, I would far rather pay a little more to purchase my meat from the people who actually raised the animals than to pay a supermarket for meat that came—even in the case of the low organic varieties—from some generic farm a few thousand miles away. I'd rather pay the same for carrots or lettuce that were raised a few dozen miles away rather than a few thousand.

As much as we live in and cannot truly escape a consumerist society, making decisions like choosing local production and connections mitigates some of the evils of the market by channeling our dollars into the local economy and small business grounded in nearby soil rather than the silk-lined purses of the agribusinesses.*

* My fear about the success of markets here is that the agribusiness lobby is very, very strong in Virginia. I do not trust that the corporations won't make an effort to co-opt or—at the very least—hinder the markets and locavore movement here.

a good kind of tired.

There must be some kind of divide you cross as an adult. A moment when you begin to care more about very domestic responsibilities and let other "younger" aspects of life go. This weekend was one of those crossing moments for me.

Banana and I helped clean the pool we'll be joining this summer, and then we hunkered down for a several hours—between Saturday and Sunday—of yardwork. The net result of these choices is that I am tired to my bones in a way I haven't been since last summer. Nonetheless, the basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and parsley have all been planted. The dianthus and pansies have been planted. The brick walks in back have been cleared of weeds and overgrowth, branches have been trimmed, and the mulch has been spread. I am now shopping for new furniture to put in our backyard and planning to get the lettuce in within the next few days.

The end result is a satisfying kind of exhaustion, a sense that we have made our small corner of the world a better, more organized place. Why is this news? It's not, really. It's just one more small part of my effort to take better control of and responsibility for my life and Banana's world.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Friday Fun - New York edition

Another moment of "I miss New York." Enjoy.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

how mornings start sometimes...

I made my coffee as usual this morning and set it to brew while I hopped in the shower. When I went to pour a cup, I found coffee everywhere. Somehow the pot never made it out of the drying rack.

I guess I've got a few things on my mind.